Not quite twenty years ago a single image in a movie spawned – for me – a whole new way of looking at gardens.
It was just a passing moment in Sally Potter’s Orlando. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. It’s greatest relevance to gardening and gardeners is that it’s a movie of a semi-biographical novel based on the life of Vita Sackville-West (creator of the garden at Sissinghurst), written by Virginia Woolf. As the character Orlando spans four hundred years and morphs from male to female in the course of the movie, it seems to me that Orlando is also generally representative of the heir to Knole (the seat of Lord Sackville), as well as specifically to VSW (as her original head-gardeners charmingly called her, when I met them in the early ’90’s).
But the film Orlando also a visually sumptuous experience, and contains more stills that I’d happily frame and hang on a wall than any other movie I know.
What I loved about the one image mentioned in the intro was that it started me on the habit of imagining virtually every garden I’ve visited, or worked on, wrapped in a white sheet. I found that by doing so I could get rid of all the detail – all the flowers and all the ‘featurism’ and consider the garden as a 3D sculpture we can stand in, as an entirely spatial experience. It’s not that you want to permanently do away with this detail, but that it’s hard to analyse spatial strengths and weaknesses in their distracting presence.
Anyway, I loved this image, and wanted to use it to back up numerous talks and include it in The Gardenist (the book, when I wrote the original manuscript ten years ago), but was never able to track it down.
Then, last Saturday morning, about five years since my last attempt, I tried googling it again. Voila!
Thank you Sally Potter. I shall be forever in your debt.